The Madhya Pradesh Cabinet today passed by a voice vote a bill aimed at curbing forced religious conversions. If passed into law, it will include a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in jail and up to Rs 1 lakh in fine, with the burden of proof virtually falling on the accused and those associated with the accused, including organisations and institutions.
The Dharma Swatantrya (Religious Freedom) Bill 2020 was tabled at a meeting of the state Cabinet chaired by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, ahead of the Legislative Assembly session slated to be held later this month.
Hinting at a possible political angle in such suspect conversions, Mr Chouhan today said such instances have surfaced where if someone’s looking to capture a panchayat, “get married to a beti (daughter) and field her in polls”. “Only recently did we bring back underaged girls from various places. We won’t allow this to happen to innocent girls from Madhay Pradesh,” the Chief Minister said.
State Home Minister Narottam Mishra said that under the new bill, forcing religious conversion on someone will attract 1-5 years of imprisonment and a minimum Rs 25,000 in fine. If the person converted, however, belongs to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe or is underaged, the crime would draw a minimum jail term of 2-10 years with a maximum penalty of Rs 1 lakh.
Those looking to change their religion will have to notify two months ahead, failing which the marriage will be considered null and void under the new law.
The Madhya Pradesh government’s move comes months after a similar law was passed by fiat by the Yogi Adityanath-led dispensation in Uttar Pradesh. Following this, several cases of alleged abuse of the law have surfaced.
Only yesterday, two teenagers walking home from a friend’s birthday party in Uttar Pradesh’s Bijnor were ambushed, harassed and taken to a police station in an incident that ended up being filed as a case of “love jihad” under the controversial new anti-conversion law.
Several legal luminaries, including retired judges such as Justices Madan B Lokur and AP Shah had said the UP ordinance was unsustainable and must be nullified immediately.